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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                   193
began to write, and the words came freely, as freely as
(he tears that come in the embrace of a friend. Suddenly
he stopped in the middle of a sentence, thought for a
moment, crumpled the letter and then tore it up.
'There is no agony worse than the agony of author-
ship," said Struchkov in his customary bantering tone.
He was sitting in his bed holding Gvozdev's letter,
which he had picked up from Alexefs bedside cupboard
and read.
"What's come over everybody today?... And Gvozdev
too! Oh, the jackass! A girl turns her nose up, so he's all
in tears. Psychological analysis. You are not angry with
me for having read the letter, are you? What secrets can
there be among us soldiers?"
Alexei was not angry. He was thinking: "Perhaps I
should wait for the postman tomorrow when he comes to
clear the box and take the letter back?"
Alexei slept badly that night. First he dreamt that he
was on a snow-covered airfield where there was a plane
of strange design, a "La-5", with bird's feet instead of
landing gear. Yura the mechanic climbed into the cockpit
and said Alexei's "flying days are over", and that it was
now his turn to fly. Then he dreamt that he was lying on
a bed of straw and Grandpa Mikhail, in a white shirt
and wet pants, was steaming Alexei's body, laughing and
saying: "A steam bath's just the thing before your wed-
ding." And just before morning, he dreamt of Olya. She
was sitting on an overturned boat with her strong, tanned
legs in the water, light, slim and radiant. She was shading
her eyes from the sun with one hand and, laughing,
beckoned to him with the other. He swam towards her,
but the current was strong and turbulent and carried
him away from the bank and from the girl. He worked
harder and harder with his arms, his legs, with all the
muscles of his body, drew nearer and nearer to her and
could already see her hair fluttering in the wind and the
drops of water glistening on her tanned legs... .
With that he woke, feeling bright and happy. He lay
for a long time with eyes shut, trying to fall asleep in the
hope of dreaming that pleasant dream again. But that
happens only in one's childhood. The image of that frail,
tanned girl in his dream seemed to have lit up everything.